I haven’t written about Germany vs NZ for a long time. Here’s one I just really have to do as it’s such a fundamental one. Food and food culture!
They belong together, yet I’d first like to talk about food.
When it comes to food, you can have everything here, the good, the bad and the ugly. You can get some excellent produce here if you have the money. The fish, the beef and lamb, the fruit and vegetables can be excellent. There’s a much bigger range of different fish, fruit and veg available than in Germany, and if you by NZ produce, it’s fresh.
Fruit, veg and grains also don’t have to be expensive if you do what I do, which is buy directly from the producer. Just as an aside, I also find it a lot more satisfying to know who grows my food, and knowing that they know me.
Enter the average NZ supermarket, and you’re assaulted by cheap crap. It’s actually a mental effort not to give in and just pick the good stuff, e.g. the fish, the organic yoghurt and butter that I had on my shopping list. Most times, I win and walk out with what I wanted to buy only. On rare occasions, I surrender and buy some seductive looking crap, only to take a few bites and then leave it behind on the next park bench because it’s just fat and sugar that doesn’t even taste nice.
So that much about food quality. If you have the money, the brains and the will power, then it’s all good.
Now let’s look at food culture. That’s an interesting one as from a continental European perspective, you could either say that NZ simply doesn’t have a culture around food at all, or you could say that it’s pretty awful.
I’m not just talking about table manners which are informal to the point of off-putting here. Ever seen an attractive, well educated woman slouching over dinner and bending to get their mouth to their spoon instead of lifting it to their mouth? Let alone using knife and fork…
My main point is that I think the non-culture here shows a profound lack of appreciation of food and of the person who prepared it. If someone has cooked for a group of people, there is not necessarily waiting for the cook to sit down and then start the meal together. Everyone may just start eating once they have their plate. To me, this disregard of the cook is plain rude.
Then the meal doesn’t necessarily even take place at a table. It’s by no means uncommon that it’s on the sofa, with your plate on your knees, TV on, and everyone watching. Everyone focussing on the TV not on the food!
Now if the food is an utter disaster and really you can just get yourself to swallow it by distracting yourself from it, then this would explain it. But generally speaking, it’s not so bad that it would fall into this category.
If it’s not the TV, then it’s the computer. People cook their dinner, then retreat into their rooms and eat it over their computers. Again focusing on something else not the food. Not even fully appreciating the food they have prepared themselves.
This focus on the distraction, and the general preference of this distraction over actually having a conversation with someone over dinner is deeply unsociable in my view. It takes the heart out of eating which is feeding your body AND your soul.
In continental European culture like the German culture, meals are a sociable thing. In German flats, meals are a reason to turn off the TV. Taking your dinner into your room is a sign that you’re either seriously unhappy in your flat, or seriously weird.
Going out for lunches with people from work is nice though as this actually is a sociable thing. So that’s one of the few occasions of eating with Kiwis that I do. And I do bring a cake for morning tea when it’s been my birthday.
The difference is that in Germany, you would usually bring a homemade cake, and if you don’t you apologise. Here, it’s pretty normal for people to bring convenience food from the shops and no one thinks much about it.
To me, considering convenience food as not much different to home made food is again a sign of lack of appreciation for preparing food yourself, and of the cook.
So in terms of food culture, I’ve long ago decided to stick with the German way. It wasn’t a difficult decision, as it’s a choice between culture and non-culture. And even though this makes me different, there’s no question that I’m happier that way.